By Hayley Kappes
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – Boating aficionados and water recreationalists got a head start on their summer preparations at the Central Texas Boat Show Friday through Sunday at the Bell County Expo Center.
The show, which has been a staple in Central Texas for 30 years, featured seminars, marine dealers, fishing equipment, exhibits, catfishing for children and the TuffMan Bass Tournament Championship.
Turnout was high, with 3,000 attendees through Saturday and a sizable crowd Sunday afternoon.
With eight major lakes within an hour's drive, water recreation has long been a favored pastime of Killeen- and Temple-area residents.
"Boating is probably one of the least expensive family forms of entertainment," said Jim Reed, show director. "Buying a boat is easy to finance and a family can go out on a boat for a whole weekend and not spend that much money."
Reed said boating is a multi-billion-dollar industry in Texas alone.
The biggest draw for the three-day show was the ninth annual TuffMan Bass Tournament Championship.
Facing 4- to 5-foot waves, high winds and frigid temperatures on Lake Belton, 61 teams competed Saturday for first place and $10,000.
John Guerra and Paul Stokes collected the championship after catching five bass, totaling 19.53 pounds.
Greg and Carla Gilbert finished in second place with 17.41 pounds and third place went to Jody Holubek and Rick Scott with 15.24 pounds.
Competitors had to pass four qualification rounds before entering the championship tournament.
The tournament's name was coined after the first year it was held, when competitors endured 23-degree weather. Reed said they all returned covered in ice.
Marla York, of Lake Belton, attended the show Sunday with her family. They were scoping bass and pontoon model boats and want to purchase one within the next four months.
"We need a boat that's good for fishing and fun," York said. "It has to be comfortable enough to make mom happy."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a booth at the show and disseminated information on boating safety to patrons.
The exhibit featured the remains of a Fort Hood soldier's boat that capsized on Stillhouse Hollow Lake in January 2007. Both passengers, who were not wearing life jackets, died.
"We want people to just be aware of their surroundings," said Todd Spivey, park ranger at Lake Belton and Stillhouse Hollow Lake. "Keep life jackets on, be aware of what the weather is like and if it will change and make sure the boat is in safe operating condition."
He said alcohol use has gone down in recent years on area lakes. The state's push on DWI has helped, he said.
The penalties for drinking while boating fall in line with receiving a DWI. Violators can go to jail or have their driver's license suspended.
Contact Hayley Kappes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559.